Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Where's Your Favorite Digimon in the New Games?

Video games are one of the best things about the Digimon franchise. Whether you're raising a Digimon from birth while exploring Digimon World or building a team while experiencing Digimon Story, you'll have a blast spending time in the Digital World with your favorite Digimon. But what if your favorite Digimon is left out in favor of the usual suspects? There are over 1000 Digimon, so why do the recent games only have about 300? And why are the always the same ones? I hear these questions a lot so hopefully, I can answer them here.

The short answer? Money. Games are expensive and Digimon games don't exactly top any bestsellers charts, so funds are always limited. Adding more/different Digimon will always cost more money and that money just doesn't exist. It's part of the reason why most games have reused the same 3D character models.

There are a few factors into why Digimon games seem to always gravitate toward the same few hundred or so Digimon instead of changing it up - the popularity of certain Digimon, gameplay balance, and how much work goes into creating new Digimon.

Let's tackle popularity first. The most popular Digimon media is and always will be the anime. Naturally, fans of the anime want to play with their favorite Digimon in the games. They want to Digivolve to their favorite and train them and explore and go on an adventure together. So while you might love Monmon or Bearmon the way a Star Wars fan loves a background Jedi with no lines, there are even more fans who care just as much about WarGreymon or Angewomon.

Adding Digimon from the anime adds up quickly. Going with Baby to Mega with the main characters in Adventure and Tamers alone is 66 right off the bat. Then add the Rookie to Mega forms of the 4 Data Squaders and that's 72. Now add the main Digimon who don't have full "lines" like Veemon, Wormmon, Exveemon, Stingmon, Lopmon, Antylamon, Impmon, Beelzemon, Guardromon, Andromon, and MarineAngemon. Now we're already at 83. Then you got to add the popular supporting characters like Leomon, SaberLeomon, Ogremon, Piximon, Gotsumon, Devimon, Myotismon, Etemon, the four Dark Masters, SkullGreymon, and BlackWargreymon - and hey now we might as well add BlackAgumon, BlueGreymon, and the original MetalGreymon too. 

Just like that, we're at 100 and that's JUST the anime characters, mostly from the first two seasons. When a game only has room for about 300 Digimon (for reasons we will get into in a bit) and 100 of them are already taken by the most populars, it can be hard to please everyone with the other 200.

The next major factor is balancing gameplay. If you're having elemental RPG effects, having 20 Fire Digimon and 2 Ice Digimon is a problem. Of course that wasn't really much of a thing in Digimon until Cyber Sleuth. A bigger problem is Digivolution trees. In games like Digimon Story and Digimon World, every time devs add a Digimon they have to also figure out what Digimon it Digivolves into and what Digimon it Digivolves from. This is why trees seem to change from game to game.

You can't have two dozen fiery reptile/dragon Champions if there aren't enough Rookies to Digivolve into them and Ultimates for them to Digivolve into. And if you factor in the whole Data/Virus/Vaccine thing it's really silly to not just have three Digimon per "element" per evolutionary stage. Otherwise you'll end up with a bunch of Digimon that are basically the same but look different.

Gameplay balance is a big part of why Digimon with non-traditional evolution gimmicks (especially those featured in Frontier, Xros Wars, and now Appmon) are often absent from these kinds of games. They simply don't quite fit in standard evolution trees and trying to squeeze them in would be like trying to add a handful of LEGO bricks to a jigsaw puzzle.

Adding a couple Armor evolutions or letting Shoutmon and Gumdramon slip in is a nice ode to their series, but adding every Spirit and Digi-Egg and all of Xros Heart would make any game way too complicated.

And expensive. Hands down the biggest issue in adding Digimon is the amount of time, resources, and labor that goes into creating just one Digimon for a 3D video game.

Let's look at Cyber Sleuth. Each Digimon has an idle animation, a walking animation, a basic physical attack animation, a physical skill animation (which may or many not be the same as the basic attack?), a magical skill animation, a damage animation for when they get hit, I think a weakened animation for when their HP is low or they're poisoned or whatever?, a super duper special attack animation, an animation for eating food on the Digi-Farm, an animation for when they're unconscious, and probably a few others I'm forgetting.

That's a lot of animation. The reason why Next Order has fewer Digimon than Cyber Sleuth and plenty of recolors is that the nature of the Digimon World games requires even more animations. Digimon frolic around when they're happy and throw fits when they're angry and lag behind when they're sick or dying. They have to react to being praised or scolded.

And the attacks in World games are more complex than just physical and magic so there's like a dozen different ones for that too. The whole metal garage door at the bathroom thing is most likely so they don't have to animate pooping animations for every pooper.

And even if you have the best/fastest animators on staff, you have to create brand new 3D models and textures for every completely new Digimon or drudge one up from an older game. This is why most Digimon games have been reusing the same models for years. Older games used to get away with having loads and loads of Digimon, but the technical aspects were vastly different.

The amount of Digimon in the DS games kept getting higher and higher, but those had 2D sprite-based graphics with very limited animation. And in the mobile Digimon Heroes, Digimon were treated as collectible cards - they basically just needed a single static JPEG. That's why that game actually had more Digimon than there were Digimon. All they had to do was draw them.

Making Digimon games is hard work and adding new Digimon to each subsequent game is a calculated and expensive maneuver that unfortunately favors yellow dinosaurs more than green monkeys, blue bears, or red penguins. Maybe one day we they can have the justice they deserve. Maybe one day.

Interested in checking out the new games, but not sure where to start? Click here to find out which Digimon game is right for you. Or maybe you want to just laugh at the terrible poster for Digimon: The Movie.